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Data collected from E-ZPasses poses some privacy concer... Data collected from E-ZPasses poses some privacy concerns (MPD01605, Flickr).
Every once in a while, the Internet rumor mongers start circulating claims that toll payment transponders can be used against tracked drivers for speeding.

So far, the rumors are simply rumors. But privacy experts warn that it's just a matter of time before some cash-strapped state looks at the giant pool of data E-ZPass, EZ TAG, FasTrak, I-Pass and other companies are collecting on drivers daily, and sees dollar signs.

"The concerns about E-ZPass tracking are certainly justified," said Daniel Solove, a professor at George Washington University Law School and author of Nothing to Hide: The False Tradeoff Between Privacy and Security. "Current laws are ill-equipped to handle the issues."

In England, they use a series of cameras to track driver speeds. There are 1,100 cameras in 500 spots, reading vehicle registration numbers. Speeding offenders are tagged in the system, and their data is sent to police who then mail out speeding tickets.

In the wake of the biggest recession since the Great Depression, state and local governments are struggling to make ends meet. No one tracks how much revenue is made annually from speeding tickets, but it's estimated to be a multi-million dollar business. The National Motorists Association estimates that 25 million to 50 million speeding tickets are issued each year. Assuming each ticket costs $150, total revenue ranges from $3.75 billion to $7.5 billion annually.

Lee Tien, a senior staff attorney with the Electric Frontier Foundation, a consumer group that fights back against digital privacy incursions, said it's possible that governments could start relying on toll transponders to boost speeding ticket revenue. But it would be unpopular.

"Turning transponders into speeding ticket generators would create some backlash," he said.

But governments willing to endure the potential backlash stand to reap significant gains in this easy system of ticket issuance.

You're Already Being Tracked

By signing up for E-ZPass and other toll services, you're handing over your address, car registration information, and credit card digits in exchange for the ability to slow down minimally while driving through tolls. In the 14 states where E-ZPass operates, traffic has certainly freed up along toll roads, compared with 15 years ago when everyone had to stop to hand over their loose change. On busy weekends, tolls could add hours to a road trip.

The move to electronic tolling has also helped the environment, argues Frank McCartney, president of the International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association, because there are fewer cars decelerating, accelerating and idling on the roads.

E-ZPass operates through its governing body, a consortium of 24 toll agencies in the 14 states that offer the technology. Almost 3/4 of all vehicles traveling through E-ZPass tolls use the little prepaid boxes.

Toll agencies already collect data from the transponders, but authorities say that data helps drivers. Authorities measure the speed of cars between E-ZPass readers to see how traffic is moving on some parts of the road. The data can tell drivers how long it will take to reach their destination or if there is traffic ahead.

"We're clocking to give people more information," said Judie Glave, spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority in New York.

Toll transponders have given up criminals, after police gleaned data from the trackers to follow drivers' steps. And since there are very few laws that keep states from using toll payment devices to issue speeding citations, it may just be a matter of time before tickets start arriving in drivers' mailboxes.

It's not mandatory to own an E-ZPass box, so people who feel the need to speed or commit other crimes could always opt to pay tolls the old-fashioned way.

Tom Levin, a Princeton professor specializing in media theory and surveillance, says Americans are already accustomed to giving up their rights when they fly. We hand over our private data for convenience all the time, he says.

"In Germany the default setting is: You can do nothing with my data unless I tell you otherwise," he says. "In the United States, the default setting is you can do everything with my data until I tell you otherwise."

Opting Out

Levin believes all the data collection is resulting in a data-driven police state. Data "is being gathered on your constantly, against your wishes," he said.

Beyond paying for tolls in cash, there are other ways to opt out. Texas offers an "unregistered" version of its TxTag, and E-ZPass On The Go can be purchased for cash, used like a normal E-ZPass but untraceable to your credit card information.

But people using credit cards, the Internet, or cellphones, needs to decide how much data they are comfortable sharing about themselves.

"What they're doing is testing how much you're willing to put up with," Levin said. "And if you're willing to put up with that form of invasiveness, it's trivial to move to the next stage."

Time will tell if the government thinks it's trivial to move from tracking traffic patterns with toll transponders to issuing speeding tickets with the same technology. AOL Autos will be watching.

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      • 4 Years Ago
      Whoo, and I had been thinking about getting the EZZZ-PASS, I dont know if I want it now... thanks for the information.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Even if your the oldest sibling, you still have a big brother....
      • 4 Years Ago
      has anyone else noticed that people are getting pulled over for anything and everything? i live just outside of st. louis mo. and all day long i see at least six cops pulling people over left and right. i have heard that the cops were told to write tickets for everything because they need the revenue and if they dont there will be layoffs. thats bullshit. plus we have to deal with red light cameras, and they are talking about putting speed cameras on the highway. people around here are only going to take so much before this explodes.
        • 4 Years Ago
        Since we pay Highway Patrol Officers to monitor traffic. It is their JOB to "pull people over for everything", when they break a law. The devices which are used in addition to the Officers are taking the place of highly paid human beings and serve a purpose for little cost. Don't break the law, and you won't have to worry about any "bullshit", as you call it. People like you might "explode" over attempts to catch criminals, but most law abiding citizens are happy to have and USE these methods of catching those speeding drivers. These speeding motorists are the cause of the majority of the deadly accidents on our highways.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Here's a wild idea...if you don't want a ticket, don't break the law. I know, pure insanity.
        • 4 Years Ago
        Only cops are allowed to drive 100 MPH on the highway. We wouldn't want them to be late for their donut break. (_*_)
      • 4 Years Ago
      Princeton professor specializing in media theory and surveillance: "Levin believes all the data collection is resulting in a data-driven police state. Data "is being gathered on your constantly, against your wishes," he said." What a confusing article. They aren't doing it yet, oh but yet they are... Tracking us every moment they can. "In Germany the default setting is: You can do nothing with my data unless I tell you otherwise," he says. "In the United States, the default setting is you can do everything with my data until I tell you otherwise." How do we stand up and say no? Who do you tell? How do you do it? Give up your phone and every other piece of technology?
      • 4 Years Ago
      Yes speeding is illegal. Yes we all know we should not do it. I don't think that is anyone's beef here. The beef is more of our freedom, and the balance between big brother watching and our freedom. If we weren't electronically tracked for the past 10 years, why should we now? If EZ Pass leads to speeding tickets, people are simply going to cancel their ez pass. This will cause less people to use EZ Pass and more people going in the cash lanes. Which will lead to the increase of cash lane usage and the state will have to FULLY staff cash lanes once again which will also cost them money.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Being disabled with deterioating health doesn't seem so bad - I'll be dead before the police state takeover is complete..
      • 4 Years Ago
      We are already being tracked. G P S is on our cell phones .Vehicles on board computers are being used as evidence in fatal crashes, recording the speed at time of impact. Federal and local Agensies are also using on - star to locate criminals along with ease droping on coversations in your vehicle, Thanks to the unconstitional patriot act George Bush created. Not only are you being followed. They could be listening to your conversation, in your vehicle without you knowing it !!!!!!!!!!
        • 4 Years Ago
        Why did Obama approve the extension of the Patriot Act ? here's the proof... http://articles.cnn.com/2011-05-27/politics/congress.patriot.act_1_lone-wolf-provision-patriot-act-provisions-fisa-court?_s=PM:POLITICS
        • 4 Years Ago
        Amen Driver!!!!! Right on the money.
        • 4 Years Ago
        I was wondering how far down I'd have to read before I'd see that it was Bush's fault. Not very far indeed...
      • 4 Years Ago
      I'm not just talking about this when I say Does anybody else see this country turning into a mix of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union with all the things that the Government has been up to the past several yrs.
        • 4 Years Ago
        As long as we believe the brainwashing from people promoting USA #1 we are open to all sorts of tricks from our government. The best policy is NEVER TRUST A POLITICIAN OR ANY DEPT. OF GOVERNMENT. Their goal is to make us slaves by promoting the lie that we are the only people in the world that have any freedoms. With your guard down, you will be taken for a nasty ride by politicians and local governments who will incrementally rob you of everything you have, including your freedoms. Look closely, its probably happening in your town right now. The answer is to say NO to everything they propose because its mostly not for your benefit, but for theirs.
      • 4 Years Ago
      I disconnected my cars ability's to use GPS or transfer data and canceled my onstar service. My car is no longer smart just the way I like it.
      • 4 Years Ago
      The old fashioned way can tell if one is speeding also, but only if you drive non - stop, which some people do, simply by the collectors checking the time you got on the highway with the time you get off. Also arizona has carmera to track speeders, have for some years now.
      • 4 Years Ago
      'ebibiz" "com t s h i r t s -12 s h o e s -35 b i k i n i -17 'ebibiz" com
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